A world-first mock trial is under way in Sydney to determine whether deaf people should serve as jurors in Australia.
The two-day trial, part of a University of NSW-led project, is to test if deaf people can effectively participate in courtroom and deliberation proceedings with the aid of interpreters.
Deaf people cannot currently serve as jurors in Australia.
This is due to a longstanding legal principle that excludes all non-jurors, including interpreters, from the jury room.
Professor Jemina Napier, interpreter and member of the research team, says that until now the understanding of how interpreters might impact a jury room is based entirely on assumption.
The mock trial, which started at Sydney West Trial Courts in Parramatta on Wednesday, puts this old assumption to the test.
“No one has ever actually tested it, because no one is allowed in that room apart from the jury,” she said.
“With all the deliberations being filmed in the mock trial, we’ll be able to analyse the interactions that occur in the room. We can then provide evidence of the nature of the impacts the interpreters have.”
World Federation of the Deaf President Colin Allen says deaf people such as himself would value the chance to be jurors.
“I would absolutely love the opportunity to be on a jury. Deaf people want to be included and to be involved,” he said.
“It would definitely be a step forward for deaf people.”
Prof Napier said the trial is the culmination of ten years of research after the NSW Law Reform Commission established a group to explore the issue in 2004.
Australia is the first country to explore the issue in depth although some states in the USA already allow deaf jurors in court trials.
Other nations like Britain and Ireland have now taken interest in the research.